Ten-year-old Fabian usually listens to pop and rock music at home in Great Yarmouth, but watching the BBC’s Concert Orchestra live on stage, it was the calming notes of the violin that were his favourite.
Like many of the 200 pupils in the audience, it was his first experience of live orchestral music, and he was thrilled by it. From Vivaldi’s Four Seasons to Mendelssohn’s Hebrides Overture – with plenty of interactive elements thrown in – the year 5 pupils listened intently to over an hour of music.
“I’ve never seen an orchestra in real life before,” said Fabian, a pupil at Edward Worlledge Ormiston academy. “It’s exciting how much louder it is and seeing how they all play.”
The show at St George’s theatre was part of the BBC Concert Orchestra’s three-year residency in Great Yarmouth, announced earlier this year, to inspire young people and improve wellbeing in the Norfolk seaside town, which has one of the highest deprivation rates in England.
Musicians have held workshops in every primary school in the town, and now are branching out into the wider community with a concert at the Hippodrome Circus this summer.
“We want a whole new generation of people to get involved in orchestras and be creative, particularly at a time when music in schools is under such threat,” said Stuart Bruce, senior creative producer at music charity Orchestras Live which is running the residency.
“Learning music is becoming more and more exclusive; it’s more the preserve of the parents able to pay for private lessons. It’s frustrating, but we hope doing stuff like this at least helps to spark some creativity. We don’t expect everyone to take up an instrument, but some might, or it might inspire them to write or take up drama.”
Music lessons in schools were hit particularly hard by Covid-19, with 68% of primary school teachers saying in a 2020 report there had been a reduction in music provision as a direct result.
But even before the pandemic, budget cuts and the loss of specialist teachers had left music provision in state schools in a '“perilous state”, with research also finding A-level music courses could disappear over the next decade.
“There isn’t enough music in schools at the moment. I think back to when I was a child at school, if you heard a piece of music or something was presented to you, it meant so much,” said Ilyena Ruhemann, principal flute in the orchestra, which has performed soundtracks for shows such as Blue Planet and regularly plays for BBC radio shows.
“It’s just such a privilege and it’s such a joyful thing to be able to maybe be the first person they’ve seen play the flute live, and certainly they don’t see an orchestra every day. It’s a great honour for us.”
As well as benefiting young people, the residency will help the “cultural development of Great Yarmouth”, said Alison Bell from Norfolk Music Hub, which provides support for families who cannot afford instruments or music lessons.
“What we’ve tended to do in the past is take children down to London, to the Albert Hall or something like that, to go and experience something phenomenal, something outside their comfort zone or anything they could experience locally,” she said.
“But this is of the same quality and it’s right inside the heart of their own community. So I think it will help build audiences for the future here, and raise people’s aspirations.”
The residency will also include a mentoring programme for local young producers to help them develop industry skills such as publicity, stage design and event management.
“I’m hoping next year all the events the concert orchestra do here will be managed, to a certain extent, by local young people working alongside the professionals,” said Bruce.
“A lot of people who go into professional arts leave their locality, they go to London, or a major city centre – maybe we can do something about trying to create more opportunities for people where they live.”